In my head sometimes it feels like yesterday. I’m at the Baltimore train station, taking the bus to New York, then arriving in Plattsburgh. There, with other passengers, we look for a taxi to go to the irregular entry point which we have heard about and which we have decided to take. The goal: to find in our exile a refuge in Canada, where we can settle down and try to rebuild ourselves. I was not alone that day in August 2017, several other people, like me, put their trust in this passage and bet on finding at the end of this adventure a more lenient living space than those we had. left, all over the world.

The Roxham Road characterizes our life stories and our immigration stories. The proliferation of criticism and indelicate reactions that it has recently provoked has somewhat put our lives on the index, for a fault that we did not commit. There’s nothing illegal about turning yourself in to the police…Yet we’re often referred to as “illegal immigrants, who have abused the system to get past the people waiting for a longer time”. It was a denial of the emergency that compelled us to undertake the journey to Roxham Road under difficult conditions: a makeshift camp, moonlit nights, days without bathing, stuck in the uncertainty and impatience.

I now often talk about my story of Roxham Road, thanks to the publication of my book last fall. Spencer, my friend and crossing colleague, wrote to me recently to tell me that he was back from Sept-Îles to see his wife and children in Montreal. I ran to see him and hand him a copy of the book.

We remembered our arrival while reading it. He smiled and nodded at the memory of those moments described by the pages he was flipping through. When he reached the paragraph that mentioned him, he decided to read aloud for his wife. Tears welled up in his eyes, in those of his wife and of course, by contagion, in mine too.

Our trajectories were not the same, he built a new family, had a baby, went to work in Sept-Îles, visited many other places in Canada. A computer scientist, he converted to other professions while training more in computer science and working from home. A few tears away and two sniffles later, he said to me:

“Thank you, Lovejoyce, for telling all this and representing us, all my encouragement and congratulations for your book, really thank you!

“No, you can see this book is about all of us,” I replied. It’s a journey we’ve been on together, you and I, and now our lives are here and forever linked, my friend. »

At the end of Roxham Road are several community organizations that welcome and assist newcomers. It is with them that many find an attentive and receptive ear, which can be decisive in the imbroglio of immigration procedures.

I spoke with the general manager of Carrefour le Moutier⁠1, Héléna Roulet. The involvement of his organization and the dynamism of the South Shore community are evident.

“The Carrefour le Moutier is a front-line community organization on the South Shore, which welcomes, listens to and equips anyone who is going through a difficult time or a period of transition in order to regain their power to act. The people who arrive here are only one step away from their unfinished journey. Eventually, they hope to be able to fully contribute to their new society. We contribute, with other actors, to the mobilization of the community in order to pool our respective resources to create a social safety net for these people. Besides, we can all be, in our own way, a link in this social safety net for these people,” she told me.

I knew Quebec through people concerned about the weakness and the need for help from their fellows. I have known people through conversations that have also allowed me to let myself be known. I conclude today that volunteering is a ferment for integration. To the point where every newcomer should devote time to it. Thanks to volunteer involvement, we are building a social peace that is truer than that chanted in public speeches, and which we are slow to see in the facts.

Roxham Road is now closed, following an agreement between Canada and the United States. Many lives have already passed through this, including mine, in 2017. I spoke with Faustin, who arrived for his part in August 2022; five years after me. His journey has been much longer and strewn with trials. After leaving Brazil in 2021, the man of Haitian origin managed with his wife to escape the smugglers. They crossed almost 10 countries on their own before arriving in Canada just seven months ago.

During this journey with an uncertain outcome, his wife became pregnant with their daughter, born in Longueuil on February 20. Both are still waiting for their work permits and survive on social assistance. It is a difficult waiting situation, which accentuates their vulnerability. But they somehow cling to the hope of a quick outcome, with the help of the various resources available to them. It’s psychologically difficult, Faustin told me. “I need to work to take care of my family. I don’t understand anything, some who arrived long after us have already had their work permit, however, “he said.

To reassure him, I had to mention the excesses among civil servants, with the passport crisis and the assignment of files to employees who were sometimes on leave or who had changed jobs⁠2. Which doesn’t justify anything…

Faustin occasionally volunteers at Carrefour le Moutier, in Longueuil, where he also receives support in his efforts.

We told each other about our lives and I told him how volunteering was not only useful for meeting people and getting to know Quebec society, but also for forgetting all the stress related to immigration challenges and waiting of the work permit. In addition, volunteering is very useful to start building Canadian work experience. We parted, promising to talk to each other again.

What has been said about Roxham Road has often been misleading. Like mentioning the nearly 40,000 arrivals in 2022 without mentioning that in 2020 and 2021, only 7,000 passed through there due to the pandemic. The 2022 figure was, in my opinion, inflated by the catch-up. Talking about illegal immigration is equally inappropriate, as all newcomers have routinely turned themselves in to Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers.

Roxham Road is now closed. However, Canada has agreed to welcome 15,000 more refugees per year, which roughly corresponds to the annual number of entries via Roxham Road since 2017. Starting today, we must defuse the debate and implement solutions to framework for all those who have taken this route. And those that Canada will continue to welcome⁠3.

Roxham Road and welcoming refugees is first and foremost the story of thousands of lives, not just a way to get to Canada. As I wrote in my book on the Roxham Road, I did not choose to leave: “All we ask is a chance to make us here and a chance to be part of here.” »

That’s not too much to ask.